Solar PV improvements changing naysayers’ stance

Those keeping a close eye on the solar market would likely agree that this is a time of change, perhaps even a time of hope. PV technology has matured to a point where electricity retailers around the world are being compelled to engage constructively with pro-PV groups. Early-adopting utilities are finally recognising PV as another viable income stream, not as something to oppose. Solar is here to stay, grid penetration rates the world over are on the rise and utilities will have to adjust if they are to capitalise on this opportunity.

If these developments are at all indicative of what will transpire in the Australian market, previously unsupportive retailers may have no choice but to ‘play ball’ and change their stance once the right mix of game-changing technology reaches the Australian public (READ: solar PV and batteries). The sections below provide examples of two interesting cases in the US where traditionally anti-PV groups have seen the light and chosen to embrace the technology.

The curious case of Arizona Public Service

One particularly interesting case study is US retailer Arizona Public Service (APS). Their recent motion to increase solar user tariffs from US$0.70/kWh to US$3.00/kWh may, on the surface, look like a blatant cash-grab – justified as a way of ‘paying your fair share’ as a grid-connected PV user – and a deterrent to those looking to install PV on their own roofs. However, this same proposal also provides a strong indication of the important and increasing role PV will have in the company’s future.

As CEO Don Brandt states in the press release: “The growth of rooftop solar doesn’t lessen the need for the grid. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The continued growth of rooftop solar depends on a modern grid that supports the two-way flow of electricity, accommodates the highly variable nature of solar power while maintaining reliability and backs up solar power with fast-starting, flexible conventional power sources.”

But that’s just the start of the contradictions – dig a little deeper and you’ll find that this company’s stance on PV is even more complex. In July 2014, APS demonstrated strong support for solar deployment by announcing plans to lease roof space from APS customers to install their own utility-side 20MW distributed PV system, a move seen as undercutting smaller PV installers in their market but nonetheless promoting PV deployment.

But just 9 months prior to that, the company was also linked to an anti-solar smear campaign. This clearly erratic behaviour is coming from a company trying to adjust and maintain profits in a solar-powered future. However, as messy and confusing as it has all been for APS, it is still a step forward.

The 100% renewable City of Georgetown, Texas

Texas. Known for its vast oil and gas reserves, traditionally Republican political stance and, unfortunately, Ted Cruz. It’s not the first place people think of when it comes to renewable energy development. But believe it or not, the lone star state produces the most wind energy in the US. And to add to its accolades, the City of Georgetown has recently announced it has signed a PPA with SunEdison to source 100% renewable energy.

The deal spans from 2016–2041 and will consist of a 150MW of solar PV and 144MW of wind energy generators. The combination of wind and solar energy generators are ideal for balancing the intermittency of the two technologies. As stated in their press release: “The combination of solar and wind power allows the City to provide energy from complementary renewable sources in order to meet demand patterns. The solar power produced in West Texas will provide a daily afternoon supply peak that matches the daily energy demand peak in Georgetown, especially during the hot summer months. Wind power production in West Texas tends to be highest in the off-peak, evening or early-morning hours. This means that wind power can most often fill power demand when the sun isn’t shining.”

Said Jim Briggs, interim city manager: “When Georgetown Utility Systems opted to seek new sources of power in 2012, we were charged with a mission to secure the most cost-effective energy that balanced risk and reward. Our team took advantage of a unique time in the market place and did just that. By securing these renewable contracts the utility can consider itself 100 percent ‘green,’ but it does so at extremely competitive costs for energy, and it hedges against future fuel and regulatory risks, fulfilling our initial goal.”

Sounds like a great idea to me, Jim.

Top Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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John Rodriguez